It always kind of felt like Marvel’s secret trick was, at its heart, these were characters we cared about and the characters themselves really did have a lot of personality and they could be genuinely funny movies. The jokes always seemed to come at the right time and there was a symbiotic relationship between the humanity of the characters and the story. They worked well together. Though, it now feels like we are getting to a stage where that balance feels a little off. What started out as a story about a guy who builds himself a suit of armor is now all about the multiple universes and variants on the same character. I have read comics most of my life and I still sometimes get confused by all this. It’s why I think it’s funny to picture someone who hasn’t seen a Marvel movie (or streaming show) in awhile strolling up to the ticket counter, “Let’s see what my pal Ant-Man is up to now,” then getting inundated with two hours of explanations about the multiverse and why there are almost endless versions of Kang.
Which feels like the inherent problem with the multiverse. The Disney+ series Loki kind of served as an instruction manual to all this, yet each movie has to sit down and explain it all again because it can’t be assumed everyone buying a ticket caught the previous explanation. (Even trying to explain this incarnation of the Loki character is kind of confusing.) So now these stories are all pre-baked with exposition, and it almost feels like the humor has been dialed up to try to offset the exposition, but it feels “off.” I now leave these movies kind of feeling like I left a trigonometry lecture.
And the craziest thing is, after saying all that, I think Peyton Reed made one of the best versions of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania possible, considering what he had to shove into this movie to set up all the aspects of Phase 5. Remember how we all loved Michael Peña’s Luis? Who would give those recaps of the story that were very unique to the Ant-Man movies? Yeah, he’s not in this. In fact, pretty much all the side characters these movies built up over the previous two movies are nowhere to be found. Remember when the Ant-Man movies were referred to as basically fun “palette cleansers.” Well, those days are gone. This movie exists to set up the next Phase 5 movie and more Kang.
Well here’s the good news about Kang: Jonathan Majors is terrific. Here’s the not-as-good news: it’s still Kang. Majors is such a force, I kind of wish he were playing Doctor Doom – a character that truly would be a step up from Thanos. Look, I know there are Kang fans. And I’m hoping by sheer force of will Majors can turn Kang into a character non-Marvel diehards will love. If anyone can do it, he can. But Kang is confusing. When I was 10 I had a Kang Secret Wars action figure and played with it almost daily and I still find Kang confusing and would find it difficult to explain him to our aforementioned hypothetical Ant-Man fan from earlier. Oh and trust me, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania sure tries to explain Kang. Many, many times. He’s a conqueror! Which is basically the only explanation we get for why he does the things he does. At least Thanos was worried about overpopulation and had an actual motivation. (Also it’s kind of weird Ant-man and Wasp handle their own with Kang in this movie, just on their own. But watch out Avengers! It would be like the first time we met Thanos in the movies he got beat up in a fist fight with Hawkeye.)
Some more good news: Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas have a lot more to do in this installment. In fact, for a good portion of the movie I could make a case Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne is the main character of the movie. It’s her we see first, in a flashback to her time spent in the Quantum Realm when she first meets Kang. He crashes there, but promises her a way out if she will help him repair his ship that can take him anywhere in space or time. When she discovers who he really is, she sabotages his ship, banishing both of them there. And Janet neglected to tell anyone about this when she returned, but also wasn’t counting on Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) building a device that can send signals to the Quantum Realm. A device that, pretty quickly and (thankfully and hilariously, without much explanation) sends her, Janet, Hank Pym (Douglas), Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to the Quantum Realm.
This is why it becomes Pfeiffer’s show because she’s the only one who knows what she’s doing down there. The rest of them, for awhile, just kind of look around at things and follow her lead. At least until they all get roped into a civil war for the Quantum Realm against Kang. And there are a lot of fun “aliens” and creatures. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to Star Wars, which for the life of me I can’t figure out except that there are the aforementioned “aliens” and laser guns and the Quantum Realm sort of looks like some of the backgrounds from Attack of the Clones.
(More good news without saying too much: M.O.D.O.K. is a hoot and is in this movie probably a lot more than you think.)
Here’s what I feel like with the multiverse saga: I feel like I’m reading a comic I like, but a run I’m not totally into. At least not yet. And with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, like I said, I think Peyton Reed has given us an installment that, with the material that has to be introduced, is about the best version this could be. But I found myself missing the more grounded and funny world of Scott Lang that the prior movies had set up. You know, being a palette cleanser is a good thing.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.